SEADREAM IN THE SUMMERTIME MED; THE GOOD LIFE JUST GOT BETTER…..

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

Harbours full of idly bobbing yachts. Cobble stone streets and quaysides awash with waterfront bars and cafes, brimming with life well into the small hours. Porsches and Lamborghinis sitting idly under a canopy of gently waving oleander. People wearing sunglasses worth the entire national debt of a small third world country, discreetly checking out the milling throngs strolling past their lunch tables. For sure, it could only be the summertime Mediterranean.

If there is a region more dedicated to la dolce vita, or one more perfectly sculpted to deliver it in spades, then I have yet to find it. There is something so utterly seductive and compelling about those platinum chip, people watching playgrounds that sparkle along the summertime coasts of Italy, France and Spain. They draw people back year after year, like moths to a flame that bursts back into life again with the dawn of each new spring.

And, for sure, there are no shortage of huge, glitzy cruise ships that will show you the ‘greatest hits’ of the Mediterranean. Rome, Florence and Naples. Monaco and Barcelona. All places worthy of your attention and indulgence. All fabled and legendary. And, in summer, all crowded beyond all belief.

If you’ve ‘been there and done that’, then you don’t need to be told that these port intensive, week long ‘Meddy-Go-Rounds’ are great fun, yet anything but relaxing. Especially in the heat of mid summer, they can actually be damned hard work, as you try to absorb whirlwind encounters with a conga line of mind blowing cathedrals, castles, piazzas and shopping plazas. Fabulous and enjoyable it is, but relaxing it most certainly is not.

And that’s where Seadream Yacht Club comes in……

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening...

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening…

Imagine a small, 4,200 tons, all inclusive yacht, carrying a maximum of 115 guests, served by a hand picked crew of 90. Now make that yacht all inclusive from dawn till dusk, with free flowing champagne and fabulous, round the clock food that truly is ‘gourmet’, and a casual dress code that is perfectly suited to those balmy Mediterranean climes.

Imagine voyaging along and to all the small, smart resort havens that the bigger ships have to sail past. Tying up literally in the middle of town, just steps from the action. And a schedule that allows for long, lingering stays in those same ports, often overnight.

Sounds dreamlike for sure. But Seadream II is no dream. She is very, very real.

Each summer, Seadream II meanders among those peachy little splashes of paradise along the length of the Riviera and the Adriatic on a series of indolent, hugely inclusive adventures. A small marina at the stern allows her to carry such ‘toys’ as kayaks, sail boats and jet skis. In the more enclosed harbours, these are available to all passengers free of charge. It adds a whole new dimension to your idea of personal indulgence.

A unique outdoor set up means that all guests can dine alfresco- at any time of the day or night- on extraordinary, elegant fare. Imagine breakfasting on lamb chops as you sail into the stunning bay of Dubrovnik, or savour a long, lazy dinner in the fantastic, floodlit bay of Portofino. Peachy, non?

The aft pool

The aft pool

Life on board is totally informal and unstructured. Evenings tend to revolve around cocktails at the sumptuous Top Of The Yacht bar, open to sea breezes on both sides. It’s a causally spectacular little enclave, perfectly proportioned, and just as perfectly served. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away at any hour of the day or night.

The aft lido deck features a small pool, and a hot tub just perfect for midnight cocktails, after you wander back to the yacht after a few hours strolling the bar and restaurant scene in Saint Tropez. This is one of several ports where Seadream II offers a number of overnight stops and, unlike certain other ports, it really does live up to the hype; a fabulous, fun place just to ‘stroll and roll’ and take it all in.

While the staterooms do not have balconies, all are outside, and come with marvellous, mulit jet showers in a marble lined bathroom, together with top end toiletries by Bulgari. Panelled in gorgeous cherry wood, each one features a sublime double bed, mini bar, plasma screen TV, and a separate living area.

I thought at first that I would miss having my own balcony but, truth be told, Seadream II is so small, elegant and intimate that the entire yacht feels like your own private terrace. And a slew of Balinese Dream Beds on the upper deck can be reserved-again, free of charge- so that you can sleep outside, underneath the stars. in perfectly secluded privacy. At a time of your choosing, a Seadream steward will wake you with orange juice, coffee, champagne or, indeed, all three. It’s a perfect spot from which to catch the first tender, blush pink flush of an early Sorrento sunrise, and a simply wonderful experience in and of itself.

To sum it up, Seadream II is a small, perfectly formed lady, one every bit as elegant as an exquisite charm bracelet. Yet she is big on style, hospitality, and things to do- or indeed, not to do.

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera...

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera…

You can hang out in a hammock with a glass of ice cold champers, or tear up the sparkling briny on an exhilarating jet ski ride. Be as sociable or as reclusive as you wish, and when it suits you. The kind of people typically drawn to the Seadream experience tend to be affable, pretty easy going types that are very well travelled. For the most part, they share a common aversion to the crowds carried on the big ships.

Come the autumn, Seadream II crosses the Atlantic, and relocates to the balmier, more welcoming climes of the Caribbean. From here, she saunters around the smaller, more secluded yacht havens that were once the playgrounds of seventeenth century privateers such as Bluebeard and Ann Bonney.

Whatever, whenever, the same casual elegance is a constant. But I offer you one well meant word of warning; if you once get to savour the Seadream experience, it will quite likely spoil you for just about anything else.

Other than that, enjoy. It’s all good.

SILVER WHISPER CRUISE SHIP REVIEW

Silver Whisper docked in Helsinki

Silver Whisper docked in Helsinki

Let’s deal with cold, hard statistics first; here is a 28,000 ton ship, with accommodation for around 380 guests in all suite accommodation. Ninety per cent of those suites have private balconies. These guests are looked after by a staff of around 330, and so highly attuned are they to your personal needs that they begin to anticipate them after only a day or so on board.

The result is a staggering amount of individual personal space, and a level of service that you’d expect to get at the Cipriani or the Savoy. Everything is deft, suave and understated. Tannoy announcements are almost as non existent as are lines of any kind. There are more than ample sun loungers and comfy spots throughout the ship. And God forbid that you should ever have to wait for a lift.

My veranda balcony suite was 345 square foot, inclusive of a teak balcony with two comfy mesh chairs and a small table. But numbers alone don’t begin to take you into the Silversea experience or ethos. The bathroom in that suite is marble clad, filled with exquisite Bulgari toiletries, and comes complete with a bath and separate shower stall. There’s a thick bathrobe that’s big enough to get lost in, and soft enough to make the idea seem appealing, too.

There’s a plasma screen TV/DVD combination with no shortage of available channels in a separate, curtained off area furnished with a couch, coffee table and a comfy chair. There’s ample storage space, including a walk in wardrobe the size of Westminster. The bed is a huge double, with sheets, pillows and a duvet so seductive that it practically qualifies as a dream destination in its own right. Throw in a fully stocked and constantly replenished complimentary mini bar, plus a room service menu that takes a while to read, and you begin to understand why these Silver Whisper suites form a very real hazard to activity of any kind. They are supremely, sublimely comfortable, commodious, and inviting.

On board the Silver Whisper

On board the Silver Whisper

But drag yourself outside, because there’s a whole ship to explore out there. Up top is a small, beautifully styled observation lounge with floor to ceiling windows, a few books, and coffee and pastries available more or less all day. Down one deck, there’s the open pool and its pair of twin hot tubs, all of which are open until late. Serving this is a more or less continuous grill, offering up steaks, burgers and other comfort food in a flash, as well as a poolside bar to keep you refreshed with another glass of whatever takes your fancy. And, don’t forget, it’s all inclusive, too.

The same grill area converts into a novel ‘Hot Rocks’ dining venue at night. Here, you can cook your own steak, chicken or other choice of cuts on a hot volcanic plate, with all the sides and condiments at hand. Try eating alfresco here in the endless summer glow of a Baltic night, and I guarantee you won’t forget it in a hurry.

On the upper deck, there’s a large panorama bar overlooking the stern, with comfy deck chairs and sofas outside, and a bar with a small dance floor inside. Entertainment tends to be low key, but highly styled; with the occasional disco and expertly choreographed floor shows in the intimate, two level theatre down below. For the size and style of the Silver Whisper this is a perfectly tailored approach, and the people on board genuinely love it.

Highlights for me included a Motown tribute show, and an excellent Rat Pack/Jersey Boys mash up that came across really well. There’s also a small, highly styled casino and an elegant cigar bar for those who want them. A secondary main lounge downstairs, known solely as The Bar, is the main venue for pre and post dinner cocktails and dancing, either to what was an extremely talented singing and playing duo, or an equally engaging pianist.

Got waffles? Breakfast, Silversea style

Got waffles? Breakfast, Silversea style

Just below the upper level lounge, there’s also La Terrazza. Open for breakfast and lunch as an open sitting venue, it has tables both inside and out. Foodwise?

Imagine fresh made waffles with chocolate sauce, eggs benedict, or even lamb chops. Better still, all of them Constant hot coffee and refreshing juices in a calm, unhurried oasis of cool. Sailing on the Silver Whisper is like putting to sea in the Ritz, but without getting a bill at the end. Sublime stuff, indeed.

In the evening, the same venue opens as a reservations only, top end Italian restaurant, and it’s exceptional. There’s no cover charge; you just need to get in damned quick.

The main dining room is down on four deck, and can seat every single passenger at one go. It’s a beautiful, window walled chamber with a small dance floor, and it holds occasional dinner dances during each cruise.

Everything about the dining experience here is pure theatre; from the lighting through to the stunning table settings, a world class menu that actually encourages you to ask for whatever you want, and service as expertly- and exquisitely- choreographed as any ballet. Add in interesting and well travelled company, some soft dinner music- and let’s not forget the excellent, complimentary, free flowing wines- and it’s little wonder that a meal here can run to more than two hours without you even being aware of it. This is food and service as theatre, for sure.

Pool deck, Silver Whisper

Pool deck, Silver Whisper

Trying to delineate the experience of sailing on the Silver Whisper is like peeling an onion; just when you really think that you’ve got under it’s surface, you begin to realise that there are just so, so many more things going on there, sometimes just out of sight. It’s like trying to stuff a cloud into a suitcase.

I could go on about the fabulous spa, and the unbelievable galley brunch tour. I could single out the excellent on board lecture programme, or the raft of up close and personal, intimate shore excursions offered on board. Being a relatively small ship, the Silver Whisper was able to get up close and personal to the centre of the smaller, more beguiling ports that the mass market ships have to leave in their wakes.

But what I was really left with are vivid, deep impressions, sentiments and memories. For a week, we were cocooned in a fantastic, exquisitely wrought Art Deco environment. We drifted from lazy lunches, to hot tubs, to pre dinner martinis on deck in what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupour; one that burst like a balloon the very moment that we departed the warm womb of this enchanted universe.

The Silver Whisper is far more than a ship, or a means of transport; she is a beguiling, constantly unfolding experience in her own right. A small fantasy island, ablaze with light and suffused in her own, glamorous aura and sense of style from stem to stern. It’s pretty heady stuff.

Silversea is- this...

Silversea is- this…

If you’ve got a taste for adventure, an appreciation for elegance, and a lingering desire to sample the finer things in life, then the Silver Whisper is certainly worth considering. She is not a cheap date, but a real lady never should be.  And, like the best and most fruitful investments of time, money and labour, the return is rich, indeed. Happy sailing!

SILVERSEA; SAILING TOWARDS THE SUBLIME…

ImageCNV00007It’s almost dusk on the outdoor terrace of the Silver Spirit as she threads her way nimbly between the vast, soaring rock formations that loom out of the sea like petrified, mythical monsters off the fabled Amalfi coastline.

ImagePassengers lounge on the sofas and circular pods, exchanging their days’ experiences over pre dinner martinis as the gentle lilt of a baby grand piano floods the warm evening sky with some almost ethereal melody. Waiters circulate discreetly, delivering champagne and delicious, hot and cold hors d’ouvres to passengers already feasting on the brilliance of a fiery, flaring sunset that turns a silent ocean into a canvas of liquid gold.

ImageIt is little snatches like this that are at the very heart of a Silversea cruise; moments of sudden, casual indolence and magic that come and go like a conga line of muffled drum rolls. These little slices of the sublime unfold so seamlessly, and with such regularity, that the full emotional impact does not become apparent until much later.

ImageCNV00049CNV00167A typical Silversea room is big enough to spend an entire fortnight in, and plush enough to make the idea an agreeable one. Ninety per cent come with private balconies. On warm summer nights, these are like little private viewing galleries. Champagne on ice, a sumptuous dinner for two, and maybe a side order of starlight as you cruise the Baltic. or perhaps the balmy Caribbean. Maybe even both…..

ImageEvery bathroom is marble lined, with both bath and separate shower, and sumptuous Bulgari toiletries. The bathrobes are big enough to lose yourself in, and soft enough to make the idea feel really appealing. Here, space meets grace and creates a surreal haven of calm, somehow effortlessly afloat on the ocean.

ImageAdd a wall mounted plasma TV with more than five hundred free, pre loaded movies, a fully stocked and replenished complimentary bar, an expansive, commodious separate sitting area, plus a bed comfortable enough to qualify as a dream destination in it’s own right, and you get an idea of why these Silversea suites are a genuine hazard to activity of any kind. But, with all that’s on offer outside, you really should take the effort to look beyond your comfortable cocoon.

ImageTake an hour or more over an amazing breakfast on the outdoor terrace as you cruise slowly around the headland, and into the heart stopping bay of Kotor. Maybe a glass of champagne to go with that multi -faceted feast? On Silversea, all drinks and speciality coffees are included in the fare, twenty four hours a day.

CNV00182Silversea ships deal with numbers in the low hundreds, rather than the mid thousands. The result is a vast amount of personal space, and lack of lines for anything. A world stripped of tannoy announcements, bingo marathons and rock climbing walls. Here, the accent is firmly on the understated, the standards never less than superlative.

ImageCuisine really is gourmet standard, and round the clock. Open seating dining- where a table for two can become one for ten if the whim suddenly takes you- is the norm. Where else could you have steak and Belgian waffles for breakfast as you sail into Saint Petersburg, or upstream on the fabled Saigon river?

ImageCNV00193These are only a few salient highlights of what makes any Silversea cruise such a deliciously addictive experience. There are, quite literally, many hundreds more. Those who have already made such a journey will understand. Those who wonder….maybe it’s time you embarked on your own, personal voyage of discovery?